Priests “The Seduction of Kansas” Track Review

Perhaps as a reaction to their break-out year seeing the band face a constant barrage of critics and fans calling them the #resistance punk band for Trump’s America, Priests are re-tinkering things more than they ever have and growing into new musical spaces.

They’ve always been a slithery band that slides between different zones with dance-able bass lines and kick-ass drums to support punk yelps–not to mention lyrics like “Obama killed something in me and I’m gonna get him for it” that don’t exactly date them to 2016.  Though funk bass lines seeped into classic post-punk bands like The Pop Group, much of this categorization is certainly unfair, the band may embody some spirit of post-punk but they were never simply “Thatcher era political music, reworded with Trump.”

Still, “Seduction of Kansas” doesn’t exactly sound like a band expertly standing on new ground.  The song feels a bit like “Suck” off their last album, but here the tempo is pulled way down to a sluggish pace, leaving Katie Alice Greer out in open space to awkwardly land melodic punches; that opening couplet rhyming “me” and “progeny” simply sounds off and, at least from an outsider’s perspective, Katie Alice Greer’s voice doesn’t sound like it’s in a completely comfortable range.  Lyrically, the band hasn’t forgotten that which makes them great as they paint some middle-america horror story, but the song sounds like a band in transition rather than one ready for a whole new era.

-Donovan Burtan

 

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Hand Habits “Placeholder” Track Review

Having bumped up to a studio and Saddle Creek Records, Meg Duffy has fleshed out their sound a bit more for their sophomore record.  The title track is hauntingly accomplished, sporting a bit more drive to the drums, quasi-flashy guitar detailing, and some smoldering backing vocals and keys.  Singing about the sensation of being someone’s emotional pit-stop rather than their destination, the song comes across with an ounce of attitude alongside the somber sonic energy.  Though not leagues away from their debut, Placeholder signals a bit more singularity to Duffy’s songwriting world.

-Donovan Burtan

Edit: initially misgendered Duffy in this review, my apologies for the error

Kehlani “Nights Like This” Track Review

Another day, another perf sci-fi video you have to see.

Kehlani’s got the right voice for today’s sounds.  Call it the Cardi b effect!  Like Cardi’s ability to sound right alongside classic hip-hop and trap dudes, Kehlani can bring runs, and she’s got power a la the classic R&B singers like Brandy or Ginuwine, but she also can fit in with the electronic sounds today and bring us the bops that were all madly craving in the latter half of this decade. Nights Like This packs a hell of a chorus, Kehlani effortlessly speaking over the cresting melody.  Ty Dolla $ign brings a palpable chemistry to give that last chorus the extra push, both tossing in some welcome backing vocals to lift the energy a bit higher.  It’s perhaps a bit down the middle, sung to a lover who didn’t show up the way they wanted, but it sounds light on this feet, sure to sneak up on you after a couple plays.

-Donovan Burtan

PUP “Kids” Track Review

New initiative! Track Reviews! Wrote four this weekend! My vision is to have a track review Monday-Thursday, and then my usual album reviews/looking ahead post on Fridays!

Also, you! NEed to see this video because it is rad.

I think pop-punk is less written about than like post-punk or other critic favorites because its a genre where something is either “rad” or “not rad” and to a degree it feels pointless to say more.  “Kids” is rad. Why? Listen to it, it is…rad.  Radness seeps from its pores.  Regardless, Toronto’s PUP always bring it.  Here, they find triumph in dead end jobs, unfulfilled youth, a life going nowhere.  The chorus is huge, intentionally lacking subtlety as lead singer Stefan Babcock screams out “I guess it doesn’t matter anyways/I don’t care about nothing but you.”  The end is communal, a sea of kids joining in for the shouty “oh-ohs.”  It’ll hit you right away, and you’ll want to hear it 100 times.

RADNESS ACHIEVED.

-Donovan Burtan

Jessica Pratt-Quiet Signs: Album Review

It’s no coincidence that William Basinski shared props for “Quiet Signs” on his facebook page. Dedicated to the art of selecting perfect sounds, Jessica Pratt crafts a flowing beauty throughout that makes the 25 minute-ish experience fall away effortlessly like one of Basinski’s perfect ambient pieces.  These are the sounds of an unpopulated home, morning breeze, cooking yourself breakfast. “It makes my want to cry” peaks out of the fog of wordlessness on “This Time Around,” not completely making its own meaning, but allowing whatever meaning you like to get attached to it.  It’ll start your day slowly, call you to sleep quickly. Quiet Signs sounds of the earth; new but forever.

Another potential touchstone, oddly enough, is the latest from Earl Sweatshirt.  Some Rap Songs was nearly entirely comprised of instrumental loops, which Earl mentioned in an interview were inspired by the work of Tirzah and other producers who work with the format.  Like both of these artists, Pratt works with a simplistic instrumental foundation, oftentimes repetitive, more about the delivery and production than the musical complexity.

After the intro featuring the lick on piano, “As The World Turns” features a three chord lick that repeats beneath her vague melodic structures.  I’m not going to sit here and lecture you about the exact chords, however, each chord expands further into jazz-like harmonic extensions, giving it a cool, growing motion.  Throughout the album, Pratt lets expertly-crafted guitar motions like this sit there as her voice wanders above, or a flute appears, achieving a certain stillness even when new details arrive.

Perhaps a product of the harmonic openness is the aversion to sounding like a specific time period.  The classy piano opening sounds like an ode to classic 60’s and 70’s recording techniques, but then suddenly Pratt will sound contemporary or Medieval.  The album’s darkest offering, “Crossing,” is the latter, the plucked guitar sounding like some sort of ancient love song from an opera’s troubadour.  “Silent Song” then takes us back to some old art film and “Aeroplane” follows with tomorrow’s sunrise, a rhythmic guitar strum that could’ve been made anywhere at anytime driving the album to close.

Lyrically, of course much of its hard to decipher, but with the likes of Julia Holter, it seems like when you are paying attention and Pratt pronounces with clarity, there’s something to behold. “Reflection of your memory in the window” matches the imagery of the sonic environment and “its so long before my future’s come” pores over the ideas of time and aging that seep from the album’s atmosphere.

Pratt truly hits all the markers of subtle music here.  It’s expertly crafted, yet effortless to listen to, familiar and new, an immediate entry to one’s library of classics.

-Donovan Burtan

8.5/10

Looking Ahead: 2/15.

Sir Babygirl is the only new release Im interested in today, but Ive got a couple others to catch up on this week.

Sir Babygirl-Crush on Me

Gushing with camp, Sir Babygirl nods to the strategy of singing about crushes in the gayest way possible as heard on The Courtney’s II and Carly’s Emotion, only here supercharging their songs with even more bliss.

Spielbergs-This is Not the End

Cathartic and anthemic, Spielbergs craft lush pop punk with lots of room for instrumental freakouts.

Listen/Purchase Here

Objekt-Cocoon Crush

Very late in the game for this one, but I love it, think its an essential electronic album that blends obscure textures with driving snare/bass combinations.

Listen Here

Ariana Grande-Thank You, Next: Album Review

Ariana Grande might have outdone herself here. Written in two weeks in an effort to bring the immediacy of rap style diss-tracks and haphazard album release schedules, Thank You, Next pulses with undeniable charm and charisma, the star again honing her singular style and unabashed disregard for the rules.

If you’ve had a pulse in the past six months, you know Grande went through a very public engagement and break up.  This album catalogs the mess of post break up desires and some of the initial strains that show the relationship could be headed south. Be it the death knell known as “needing space” on NASA, Bad Ideas in the intimacy department for a rebound, or grappling with one’s need to leave for Ghosting; Grande plays on different characters and moods to capture the intense juxtapositions of this time.

Though Thank You, Next is intentionally all over the place lyrically, the pillowy sounds and snappy vocalizations pass through drastically different moods with ease. Imagine begins sparkly and pristine (and admittedly a bit slow), but then were on to the undeniable run from Needy on, an instagram-like sonic lens softening edges on bouncy choruses like “Imma need space/Imma/Imma need space” or “Got a bad idea/Forget about it, yeah, forget about him, yeah/Forget about me.”  Of course there’s some exceptions to give us some jams, like the blatty faux-reggae horns on Bloodline, but where Sweetener might have lost some of its cohesion with the relatively obviously contrasting producers (Max Martin and Pharrell Williams), Thank You, Next feels a bit more like one fell swoop.

Another nod to rap are the sticky one-liners á la Drake that range from hilarious to crushing. Literally titling a song break up with your girlfriend, im bored is, in a word, iconic, and then there’s the uber honest “Don’t want you in my Bloodline/Just wanna have a good time” and the Rihanna reppin “looking at you is the fix/Highlight of my life, just like that Fenty Beauty kit.”  Alongside Fake Smile, Ghostin is one of the more emotionally honest, sporting a line like “Though I wish he were here instead
Don’t want that living in your head” as Grande yearns for someone else.

Though Sweetener was incredibly fun and slickly designed for track to track experience, the inherent contrived aspects of blockbust pop album are shed here. Thank You, Next as a single sounded off the cuff, not needing to garner eight months of radio play before full album day and the ease with which the album feels makes each listen utterly blissful.  Perhaps this is best summed up by Fake Smile, one of the most emotionally open numbers of Grande’s career.  If 2018 saw Grande confronting personal and communal tragedy with ease, 2019 might be the time when she shows how human she is.  Rather than assigning herself the duty of having No Tears Left to Cry for a full campaign, she proposes to shed the wall between her and her fans, maybe join us in our messiness.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10